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White River Partnership

posted Jan 14, 2015, 6:26 AM by Lyn Munno   [ updated Sep 15, 2015, 10:48 AM ]
The White River is the longest un-dammed tributary of the Connecticut River. Its watershed drains a large portion of the Green Mountain National Forest, and the watershed is also designated a special focus area for the Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.* One of the state’s most active watershed groups, the White River Partnership (WRP), works with schools, businesses, towns, state and federal agencies, and a host of volunteers to address concerns about the river that were first identified in a round of public meetings in 1996. 

In 1996 the WRP was an informal collaboration of “White River Partners”, including concerned citizens, local and regional organizations, and federal and state agencies, who met regularly to identify common watershed priorities and to pool technical expertise and funding resources. The US Forest Service was a founding partner, so on-the-ground work focused on addressing high-priority concerns in the Upper White River watershed, which is within the Green Mountain National Forest proclamation area. After receiving a $1 million grant from the US Forest Service Community-Based Watershed Grant program in 2000, the WRP expanded on-the-ground work to the entire watershed and initiated the process of incorporating as a non-profit corporation.

Over the years the WRP has formed strategic alliances with local, state, and federal groups and enlisted the help of specialized consultants to develop, implement and monitor on-the-ground watershed restoration and protection projects; to recruit 500 annual volunteers to participate in hands-on watershed stewardship activities; and to coordinate a variety of educational programs and activities that raise awareness about watershed issues and build community support for watershed restoration and stewardship.




Greg and Mary accept an aquatic organism passage award
from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.


Mary Russ became Executive Director of WRP in 2006, after earning a Master’s in Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School. Mary coordinates membership, fundraising, and community outreach activities, and works with the Board of Directors to fulfill organizational, financial, and personnel administration tasks. Greg Russ joined as Project Manager in 2009, developing and implementing on-the-ground restoration projects in the White River watershed with landowners, volunteers, and partners, and serving as a technical consultant outside of the watershed. Emily Miller joined as Monitoring Coordinator in 2012, coordinating the WRP’s annual monitoring activities and school-based watershed education program as well as the multi-partner Upper White River Cooperative Weed Management Area, which documents and manages non-native invasive species.




Major project categories for the White River Partnership are common to most watershed groups, though few tackle the full array of issues in such depth:  

ASSESSMENTS


  • Monitoring water quality over 14 seasons, with a focus on swimming holes and public access points;
       
22 water quality sampling points are distributed throughout the White River watershed.



  • Assessing the condition of river corridors;
WRP consultants assess bank condition, access to floodplain, and other indicators of river health.
 



  • Measuring restoration project success; 
WRP volunteer removes protective planting tube while assessing tree survival.
 
 RESTORATION


  • Planting vegetative buffers;

Collecting willow whips for a stream buffer planting.
            


  • Improving fish passage by replacing and retrofitting culverts;
Baffles inside a culvert are a creative and low-cost solution to improving fish passage.
 




  • Reducing road erosion;
Roadway along the White River washed out during Tropical Storm Irene.
 



  • Managing invasive plants in the Upper White River;
Flooding spreads Japanese knotweed along river corridors,
as even small segments of stem will root to form new plants.
 
EDUCATION

  • Conducting public workshops to explain WRP projects and educate landowners;
Greg Russ leads a public tour of the Hurricane Flats restoration site.
 
 



  • Offering school programs that monitor river conditions and aquatic life;
Students appreciate invertebrates large and small during biological monitoring sessions.

 STEWARDSHIP


  • Organizing river cleanups, in coordination with the Connecticut River Watershed Council’s Source to Sea event;
 
A WRP river cleanup crew in Hartford, VT – undaunted by damp weather.
 


  • Improving public access, most recently on flood-vulnerable properties bought out by the Federal Emergency Management Agency;
 
A Vermont Youth Conservation Corps crew builds stone steps to improve public access.
 
  • Involving community volunteers in all the above activities to encourage close connections to the river.
   
In addition to its more conventional watershed activities, the WRP adapts to the times by filling new needs and taking advantage of new opportunities. 
  • In 2010, WRP raised $20,000 at the first US Landscape Auction, supported by a Conservation Innovation Grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. 
  • Another bright new funding concept is a partnership with the Clear Water Carbon Fund, which helps consumers and vacationers offset their carbon impacts (while improving water quality as an extra bonus), by purchasing offsets based on the carbon-absorbing value of trees planted by WRP volunteers. 
  • Climate changes also bring new challenges and opportunities to the projects list. The White River experienced major flood damage during Tropical Storm Irene, and projections call for more severe storms in future years. The WRP works diligently to minimize future flood hazards by giving the river room to move and restoring natural vegetation and flood plain access along the river. Post-Irene efforts include working with towns to replace under-size culverts and restoring river banks with log structures to prevent severe washouts during future floods. In the wake of FEMA buyouts at particularly vulnerable sites, WRP is also working with towns to ensure responsible public uses for these newly-conserved properties.

*The river formerly boasted the state’s only national Atlantic salmon hatchery, but sadly the US Fish & Wildlife Service shut down efforts to restore salmon to the Connecticut and Merrimack Rivers in 2012-13.
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